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Goodbye, Ingmar Bergman

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : July 30, 2007

image Ingmar Bergman, the great Swedish director, died today at the age of 89. I credit Mr. Bergman for awakening within me a passion for film. Let me tell you the story of how I became a fan of Ingmar–and of “film” (rather than simply “movies”).

When Amy and I were first married, I worked at a store that sold men’s wear–mostly suits. I was 22, and at the time I fit into a 44 athletic cut. I’m definitely beyond that now–being a standard size 50. Someday, I’ll get down to that size again…but I digress.

Though I was a poor salesman, I liked my job. I liked meeting customers–most of them needing a suit for an interview or a wedding or a funeral. I got to connect with people during times of profound transition. I liked to hear their stories and help them. I’d usually get yelled at because I wouldn’t sell them things they didn’t need. For some reason, I was expected to sell TWO suits to someone who just lost their aunt.

But the thing I loved most about my job was Steve. Steve was a lifer. He’d been selling shoes or suits for most of his adult life. At the time, he was fifty. He was a little man–he wore the small suit we sold. He had never been married, never driven a car. And he had one great passion: film. In particular, he loved foreign films, and porn.

When he first told me of his love for these two sorts of film, I was a bit shocked. On the one hand, he loved the film greats–people like Kurosawa and Bergman and Godard and Kubrick. But on the other, he had a massive appetite for pornographic film. And for him, it wasn’t simply about getting aroused. He was convinced that some of the greats were too avant garde to direct mainstream films, and because of this, they included smut in their films in order to get their film visions funded.

He wanted to draw me into his love for film. Thankfully, he didn’t pressure me into enjoying his porn collection, but he DID share his two favorite directors with me: Kurosawa and Bergman. The first films he lent me were “The Seventh Seal” and “The Passion of Anna” and then “The Seven Samurai” and “Ran.”

Steve taught me that film wasn’t simply entertainment–it could be art. It can teach you things about the human condition and about transcendence. In the “Seventh Seal” I found a film that could explore both at the same time. It was an existential trip. Few movies have impacted me at such a deep level.

In this iconic film, a knight has returned to Sweden from the crusades. On the shore, he meets death, who has come for him. He challenges death to a game of chess…putting off the inevitable. Here’s a scene…few films in the past 20 years come close to his simple profundity:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/Vyqg017aFrY" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

The film offers a grim view of faith…but an honest one. It strips away happy-face spirituality and forces you to contemplate the gentle cruelty of death. Faith in God requires…faith. It isn’t a given, cannot be taken for granted, and must be purchased in spite of the darkness in our world. The knight’s faith is filled with doubt, but is the richer for it.
Goodbye, Ingmar Bergman.

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Comments

5 Responses to “Goodbye, Ingmar Bergman”

  1. j evans on July 31st, 2007 11:57 am

    Love Bergman’s stuff! Winter Lights changed me.

  2. Jonas Lundström on August 1st, 2007 12:48 am

    Interesting post. I am from Sweden and I also like Bergmans work very much, although many people found most of his work too dark, philosophical and boring (I don´t agree). I think that it is sad that the church has not been able to connect to the genuine, existential and religious issues of god, guilt, relationships etc that are raised within his movies in such a creative way.

    Another movie you should watch if you haven´t is the one with the priest and the lord´s supper. I don´t know what it is called in english.

  3. Luke on August 2nd, 2007 1:38 pm

    Sad, indeed. I think his “Persona” (1966) is the greatest film of all time.

  4. markvans on August 2nd, 2007 5:45 pm

    Persona, eh? I haven’t seen that one yet. I’ll check it out.

  5. William Gilmore on August 3rd, 2007 11:20 am

    Mark,
    In case you haven’t been introduced to it I wanted to make you aware of the film “The Oxen” directed by Sven Nykvist, Bergman’s cinematographer. In my opinion it is one of the greatest films ever made. It is a wonderful portrait of Swedish Lutheranism and the Gospel. Highly recommended.

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